In German, Kummer means grief.
My grandmother died twice: the first time was a lie.
My mom asked a friend to call her at work with a fake family emergency. Afterwards, we drove to Paducah and ate Arby’s french fries.
My mother talked about how awful my grandmother was and told me I should be grateful I had a great mother.
The second time was the truth.
My grandmother passed out drunk outside her trailer in rural Oklahoma in the middle of winter. They found her on the first of January, her bones frozen and her fingers cold.
My mother laid in bed and wept for hours. She cried until she threw up, until words could no longer escape her mouth. She cried until she found it difficult to breathe, her chest concaving in rapid and hectic spurts.
There are words in German that can’t be translated into English.
These words travel down linguistical rivers and get lost in the current.
Words that dangle from broken driftwood.
Kummerspeck is the German word for the rolls of fat that have accumulated around my mother’s waistline.
Kummerspeck cannot be translated into English. When all emotions are abandoned, it translates to grief bacon.
My mother used to starve herself
She would only nibble her food
This was back when daddy would hit her every time she said something he didn’t like
She thought the faster she wasted away,
The faster her bones protruded from bruised and beaten skin
The faster she could escape
After my grandmother died, my mother became fat.
Her stomach bubbled over her jeans.
Her bones became lost under pounds of adipose tissue
She taught me food was a substitute for therapy
And words that were too hard to say out loud.
by Brittny Meredith
Brittny Meredith was voted “most opinionated” in high school and has since considered it a challenge to remain the loudest, most obnoxious woman in the room. She co-hosts the podcast, Mansplaining, where she analyzes hyper-masculine culture within action films. Her work has been published in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature and Graceless.
My children will beg me to carry them all over San Francisco, their bodies sticking to me, their voices question marks and exclamations.
My heart will roar like a train when I see my father, yet I will stay pleasant, quiet, impenetrable. My brother, who never asks anything of me, will ask me and my mother to pose in nuclear family photos. As the camera clicks, I will grind my teeth down into short, flat plains.
My mother will pace in high heels, perpetually sipping Diet Coke. Her friends will encircle her, a tragic queen, create a shield around her so that she won’t need to see my father or remember that he is there.
Halfway through dinner, I will give a speech about the buoyant nature of love. I will dance all night. I will bring back disco. I will spin my children in the air, and the flame of their joy will launch the dance floor into a plane of happiness.
When my husband carries our children away to sleep, his twin will corner me. He will find a reason to call me a frigid bitch to my face. And I will tell him that I am not frigid, and he really should look up that word. I will keep speaking to him because he is kind to my children, nicknaming them and looking at them the way he wished someone would have looked at him when he was a boy.
I will run miles until I turn into a bird and fly away but I won’t fly away; instead I’ll just stop hitting the pavement with my body. I will fall in love with the fresh salty air and rolling hills and $7 coffee, and then I will board a plane and go back home.
by Jamie Wagman
Jamie Wagman is an Associate Professor of Gender Studies and History at Saint Mary’s College in South Bend, Indiana. Her creative work has also appeared in The Adirondack Review, Newfound, Hip Mama, and Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies and Gender Issues.
Your neighbor Dorie says it’s hard to leave a man who is emotionally abusing you. Mom likes Franklin Graham. Your cousin Brian shared a selfie. Your colleague Jacquard published a poem that took years to write. Your niece’s husband Jesus ran Bloomsday while pushing his daughter Gabriela in a stroller. Your friend Mei is taking an online class with a comedian who kicks cismales off the stage. Brian likes Defend the 2nd. Gaia says being online is living in Plato’s cave. Defend the 2nd wants people to join their community of patriots. Dorie harvested a thousand delicious plums from her backyard. Blackivist says the government dismantled the Black Panthers because black people stood up for justice. Brian likes cutting big trees and watching them fall. Mei likes Blackivist. Sounds True says mindfulness is being fully awake. Brian can’t believe a naked woman walked into an elevator at the middle school. Mei wants people telling Hillary to shut up, to shut up. Dorie says the naked woman was on drugs and just trying to find her dog that had wandered into the school. Jacquard’s poem features three men, one of whom raped her. Dorie wants advice on how to get rid of hornets nesting under her house. Franklin Graham thanks President Donald J. Trump for his support. Jacquard learned there’s such a thing as an Assassin Caterpillar and is using that as her spirit animal. Sounds True says mindfulness is about not having a self. Dorie shared a video of three men rescuing a goat from an electrical wire. Brian likes Secured Borders.
Gaia says we are just little waves in a great big ocean. Brian and Mei checked in at Murphy’s brew pub, Jesus is at the Mariner’s game, and Mom is babysitting Gabriela.
by DJ Lee
DJ Lee is a professor of literature and creative writing at Washington State University with an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars and a PhD from the University of Arizona. DJ’s creative work has been published in Narrative, the Montreal Review, Vela, and the Los Angeles Review of Books, as well as other journals and anthologies. One was a nonfiction prize finalist at Terrain and The Offbeat; another received a Pushcart Prize special mention. Yet another was shortlisted for the Disquiet International Literary Prize.
This is not a metaphor for anything. I am talking about a very real pungency. Smashed yellow cherries on the concrete sidewalk. It’s check-the-bottom-of-your-shoe season, it’s did-I-step-in-dog-poop season, it’s no-you-didn’t season: it’s Gingko Season.
It’s that one spring in Brooklyn where we finally discovered that the Chinese restaurant on the corner had been using the construction dumpster by our house to get rid of their old fry oil, mouldering baby corn, yellowed tofu corners, slimy strips of chicken fat.
You can’t call 311 on a tree.
It’s the constant whiff of judgment: who threw up here? It’s the smell of some young person’s humiliation: partially-digested macaroni and cheese soaked through with liquor and bile. It would not be an exaggeration to say I always gag when walking under a gingko tree. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I almost always automatically ‘tsk’ when walking under a gingko tree. Its effects are both physiological and psychological.
There is no solution to this problem except to be glad that gingko trees are one of my problems. And anyway, gingko season doesn’t last long: soon the cold air will take the edge off the stench, soon the pulpy sidewalks will be layered over with snow. Soon enough, I could live somewhere else entirely. The gingkos would still be here, steady canopies with a million little fluttering leaf fans. The gingkos would still be here, obstinately performing their ritual above our heads.
by Olivia Dunn
Olivia Dunn is a Visiting Professor of English at Skidmore College and a graduate of the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa. Her work has appeared recently in The Pinch Journal, SHANTIH Journal, Tinker Street, The Nervous Breakdown, River Teeth, and McSweeney’s.
Are the items most frequently listed for my grocery getting. When I check off each item on my phone, I wonder if I should just uncheck it for next week’s go round. To switch it up, I’ll get different cheeses. Or hummus. Even a zucchini. God knows which vitamins I’m overloading or lacking. I dare not try to find out and alter my recurring list.
That wasn’t how it was. Half a life ago meals were full of turmeric and cloves and mustard seeds. Lentils and peas and eggplant delight. My mom’s hands are art. Her rhythmic strokes are apparent in watercolor, hair braiding, and deep frying. Prettiness is ubiquitous with her touch. Her salads present perfectly married greens, a balanced spice profile, topped with pomegranate gems.
I remember that with beauty comes the beast. “That okra is too expensive.” “Don’t put too much ghee on the roti.” “You’re wasting your food!” So many moving parts would come together for her delicacies, but they gave rise to my shoulders. Froze my initiative. Beleaguered my soul. What was normal half a life ago is simplified now. A basic list. Week after week.
I don’t dislike cooking. But recipes with ingredients galore revive the tension of not enough. I recall Saturday mornings milling through coupons while going between the sales at four grocery stores. I always missed Saturday morning cartoons. They were a mystery to me. I was a fake kid. A grown-up kid. Not a kid.
I get to shop for myself now. When I’m armed with a coupon, I rejoice in my roots. But having the choice offers Saturday mornings all to myself. I eat a breakfast of eggs, cheese, meat, and spinach with a dose of my favorite TV.
by Nisha Mody
Nisha Mody is a librarian, writer, and cat mom. She hails from Chicago and currently lives in Los Angeles. Her writing has been published in Everyday Feminism, Role Reboot, and Chicago Literati. Follow her on Twitter @nishamody.
The father with oil stains on his button-down shirt is enraged he cannot find a golf course in Tijuana. A perverse butt of a chewed cigar hangs on his lower lip flaking tarred edges onto his chin. Spitting slurs he moves among the crowd, his daughter twisting underneath him. He insists people are lying to him. He demands knowledge. The crowd parts to make room, turning three-quarters to observe the spectacle.
One man steps out from the crowd to direct the father. He takes contained steps, edging the Big Man and little daughter to a lone paradise.
It is safer with only daughter, father, tantrums. No audience. Ghosts of trees and annihilated bushes and flowers haunt a cloudless sky. White bright light. Mule-like a caddy follows on the heels of the father (as does his 5 year old), rolling over green dominated hills.
Mastery of this game consists in striking precisely in order to sink wrinkled white balls into an abyss,
dark narrow curved
On again off again: padding, spitting, squinting. Relentless pursuit meets relentless failure.
Squint, shift voluminous hips, pad torn yellowed turf, aim.
Sweatily he goes, quarters ripping holes in his shorts, to the pinball machine, which he strikes with his hip and bangs more successfully. The daughter steps on a milkcrate and wraps her arms around the width of the machine. The father goads, then yells at her for losing.
At five this ends. A Siren sounds. He responds as if he had been waiting his life for this signal. The casinos are open! He wanders, the weight of his belly speeding him down paved roads towards machines and tables where he’ll work to forget people, the world and people in the world. He never gets far enough away into the fog to make them disappear.
by Patricia Coleman
Patricia Coleman is a writer/director whose pieces have appeared or will be appearing in presses including Bennington Review, Maintenant 11, Poetica, PAJ, Bomb and The New Review of Literature. She has staged 25+ productions at venues including The Kitchen, Chashama, and JACK. Her adaptation of Euripdes’ Medea was performed by glass-blowers and puppeteers at Brooklyn Glass in 2014.